September 26, 2013

Parklets Plant Themselves In Public Places

True story...during that beautiful Friday in Richmond last week, I was out riding my bike during lunch hour. Now, anyone who cycles through city neighborhoods knows that sometimes you’re going to see the unexpected, but I really didn’t expect to see what looked like someone’s back deck resting in a curbside parking zone on Robinson Street. Yet there it was, a wooden deck with plants, a table, big umbrella, and chairs nestled curbside into a space about the size of a big pickup truck. A sign proclaimed that it was a “parklet” and people were sitting in the space talking and relaxing in the shade of the umbrella and trees next to it.
Photo courtesy of Phil Riggan.

This parklet was hosted by the Robinson Street Association (RSA) and design firm 3north to promote the Robinson Street Parklet Project. It was one of six parklets that Andy Boenau from the Timmons Group in Richmond had organized for PARK(ing) Day, an international event which in 2011 reached 162 cities in 35 countries. The common theme for PARK(ing) Day is fitting temporary parks (in a wide variety of styles) into a couple of typical parking spaces. Richmonders jumped into it feet-first and holding hands for 2013, setting up a variety of parklets across the Fan and downtown Richmond, such as a grassy courtyard and a vegetable garden. These examples were one-day-only displays with volunteers enjoying some time in the space to educate passersby such as myself about the project.

“The parklets are semipermanent,” explained Bob Adams, a fixture in housing and community development in Virginia, who was volunteering at the Robinson Street parklet. “The RSA has been working with a few city departments to make sure that we’re okay in terms of placement and safety and traffic flow.” Adams said that some proposed parklet locations were in former bus stop spaces that GRTC had recently relinquished, and in other cases the Project was looking at spaces that were co-located with businesses such as cafés who were supportive of the concept.

The parklet designs are modular, combining elements such as seating, plantings, umbrellas, bike parking, and/or lighting, and can be relocated if necessary. It’s important to note, however, that these parklets aren’t designed to use privately owned property; the vision for Richmond’s parklets is to use curbside spaces, and Adams said that he felt there was enthusiasm for this plan within city government.

Also, the Project doesn’t use municipal funds. In fact, the entire Project started out with a VCUArts grant in 2011-12 to students Ricardo Hernandez-Perez and Lauren Versino who researched parklets in other cities and came up with the plan for Richmond (Harrisonburg and Norfolk are other Virginia cities that have experimented with parklets). The design, materials, construction, and maintenance of parklets is typically provided by businesses, organizations, and individuals, and indeed the RSA plans to use a Kickstarter fundraiser to raise money for the Robinson Street Parklet Project. The RSA’s hope is to build the parklets in early Spring 2014.

For more information on the RSA or the Robinson Street Parklet Project, visit, and to see more photos from RVA PARK(ing) Day, visit the Facebook event page.
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